June is Pride Month, when the world's LGBT+ communities come together to celebrate the freedom to express themselves and continue the campaign for equality. As advertisers seek to increase diversity in their ads, it’s important to make sure they don’t run into issues with the Advertising Codes.
While it is not in the ASA’s role or remit to mandate casting decisions or the frequency or prominence given to LGBT+ communities in ads, marketers may want to get a better understanding of how the communities feel they’re being represented. According to a 2019 YouGov survey commissioned by the Gay Times and Karmarama, 64% of adults think it’s positive for the LGBT+ community to be visible in ads, however 72% of the LGBT+ community think the way they are presented is tokenistic. The study also found that only 32% of marketers engage with the LGBT+ community independent of Pride, despite 84% of LGBT+ consumers calling for it.
When depicting members of the LGBT+ community, advertisers should take into consideration rule 4.1 of the CAP Code, which states that marketing communications must not contain anything that is likely to cause serious or widespread offence. Sexual orientation and gender are among a number of personal characteristics that advertisers should take particular care with.
Ads that depict the LGBT+ community in a derogatory light or make use of potentially negative stereotypes, even when the intention is to be humorous or light-hearted, are likely to be considered offensive or harmful. For instance, an ad which asked viewers to “Spot the stallions from the mares!" and featured depictions of transgender people as part of a speculative game was found to breach of the rules. Although the advertiser had consulted with a transgender support group during production, the ASA considered that the ad trivialised a complex issue, and depicted several negative stereotypes, which were likely to cause serious and widespread offence, and encourage discriminatory behaviour. Discussing your campaign with an organisation that supports and represents the community can help advise you on what’s likely to cause offence; however, campaigns that draw closer to the ‘line’ will still carry a fair amount of risk.
Whether or not an ad is considered to be offensive will also depend on the tone and execution of the ad. The ASA received two complaints about a TV ad for pot noodle which depicted a male actor playing the character of a WAG, dressed in women’s clothing. The complainants challenged whether the ad was offensive, and encouraged discriminatory behaviour and treatment towards transgender people. The ASA considered that this ad was likely to be interpreted as a mockery of the WAG culture, rather than of transgender people, and that it was unlikely to cause serious or widespread offence.
On occasion, the ASA receives complaints because a complainant believes ads that depict homosexuality are offensive; however, the ASA would not uphold a complaint on that basis. But, advertisers should be mindful that if they depict intimate scenes that may be deemed as sexually suggestive, they should be carefully targeted and sexually explicit content should be avoided, regardless of the sexual orientations of the characters involved. Similarly, the ASA may also receive complaints about ads from organisations with ‘anti- LGBT+’ views. While it is not the ASA’s place to arbitrate between conflicting ideologies and organisations have the right to express their views, including in paid-for advertising, the Codes make clear that such rights are always subject to the rights of others.
CAP is here to support the industry in complying with the Advertising Codes as it takes steps to improve the representation of LGBT+ people in ads. For further guidance, try searching our AdviceOnline entries and if you need bespoke advice on your non-broadcast ads then our Copy Advice team are here to help.
Happy Pride Month!